Wednesday, 23 March 2016

A Reflection of Joy & Peace through Art

When I was in Israel, I took time to catch up on life with my Israeli friend Susie or Shoshanna as she is called.  I met her in Seoul, South Korea at Onnuri English Ministry where we were members.  And we were also part of the Intercessory team.

So, it was good to meet with Shoshanna in Bat Yam.  She travelled 1.5 hours y bus to join me for lunch.

I discovered that Shoshanna has been painting, working mainly with oils. 

She is interested to showcase oil paintings that have a Biblical theme.  She is passionate about expressing the joy and peace through her colorful paintings.

Do visit Shoshanna's Paintings.       

Shoshanna's paintings can be bought as originals or in prints.  These paintings are a wonderful gift to give away or to be personally appreciated.  Colors play a big part in her paintings.

You can contact Shoshanna through the link above.  If you are in Haifa, you might even want to meet with her.   Invite this Israeli artist to showcase her paintings at your next big church events.

Blessings of Joy,


Saturday, 19 March 2016

Thinking Holy in Holy Land

Six years ago in 2010, I visited the Holy Land as part of a sabbatical gift to myself.  I wanted to step where the Lord Jesus had stepped.  My desire was fulfilled.

Wearing Palestinian Shoes
One of the key and first places I visited then was the little town of Bethlehem in Palestine.  I stayed with a Palestinian Baptist pastor's family.  They were hospitable and over tea, I asked a lot of questions about their life and culture.  I was familiar with Arab culture but even among Arabs, life would be different in different places.  Bethlehem came across to me as a city with people struggling with poverty.

On Palm Sunday in 2010, I joined a Palestinian Christian family to queue with hundreds of other Palestinians at the checkpoint.  We needed to walk through this long, closed corridor to get our identities checked.  Meanwhile, I saw young Palestinian families with crying toddlers waiting patiently.  I saw elderly frail-looking Palestinians hanging onto their canes, waiting patiently.  Young people, especially women were all dressed in their Sunday best.  All hoping to cross the checkpoint to Jerusalem to celebrate Palm Sunday.  Some families had even packed some food as they expected it to be a real long wait.

 I hate waiting; yes, I lack patience.  So, waiting two hours with my Palestinian Christian family was a chore.  But we waited.  Two hours into the waiting, we were informed that the checkpoint counters had been closed by the Israeli soldiers.  The pastor decided that we would not wait any more.  We would not be able to join the Palm Sunday parade in Jerusalem.

I had another experience where an Israeli Arab bus-driver purposely did not let me off near the East Jerusalem gate.  See, I needed to take a local bus to Bethlehem but many do not want to recognize the existence of a people called Palestinians.  Some address them as Israeli Arabs but how can they be when they do not enjoy the privileges and benefits of Israelis?  

When I left the Holy Land in 2010, I was a little disappointed, quite confused with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  I will not pretend and say that I understand it all now. I think I was angry when I personally felt the non-compassionate treatment at the checkpoint.

Beauty of Israel

When I visited Israel in 2010, I was struck by the beauty of its land.  And yes, they are all not bad people.  In the bus incident that I mentioned above, one young, 16-year-old Jewess actually helped me to get the right bus.  
And when I returned to Jerusalem that Maundy Thursday, I prayed that God would help me meet a nice, loving Jewish family.  He answered the prayer.  I met a Jewish family by the Wailing Walls and we took a photo together.  They were polite and gracious.
I began to see that if people had a government that really cared for their advancement, things will be good for the nation.

And so, I began to pray for Jerusalem regularly and generally because God desires that from His children - Jew and Gentile.  But you see, I did not quite include the Palestinians in that prayer.


For almost 5 years after my visit to the Holy Land, I prayed for the peace of Jerusalem.  To me, Jerusalem is Israel.  And especially in 2015, I stepped up prayer for the Jewish people, for the land of Israel.  I kept in touch with the news in Israel.  I hated that Palestinian Arabs (albeit non-Christians) were stabbing Jews.  How hateful and evil is this!

It seemed like the political agenda that both Israeli and Palestinian leadership expounded, boiled down to; "Whose land is this?" Sorry that I may have oversimplified this for my readers but I really am not writing a politically-charged blog here.   And jihadism seems to be real when a people deceived by lies begin to devalue life, whether it is their own or other lives.

I tried to listen to both sides but I admit that I saw every piece of news with Israeli lens, and this too, despite having more Palestinian Christian friends than Jewish friends.  Media is powerful and clever but God is wiser.

CATC 2016 
In God's great wisdom, He allowed me to befriend a Palestinian Christian Arab, my brother-in-Christ Rev. Dr. Jack Sara.  In a God-ordained encounter in Texas, just for 5 minutes, we connected.  Soon, I received an invitation to join CATC2016.  I mobilized prayer as I really, really wanted to attend this conference and I wanted to see the beauty of the Holy Land once more.  In reality, I expected to re-visit in 2017 or 2020 but I am so thankful that God provided through precious friends.  Within 7 days, I was signed up, bought my ticket, planned the itinerary to visit a couple of places.

Pre-conference responsibility
I was warned against attending CATC2016.  Friends who were pro-Israel, like me, were warning me of the lack of sound theology and its pro-Palestinian agenda.  It was all hearsay.
And it is easy to accept hearsay.
I did not want to accept hearsay and also desired to know about the truths.  And about a month before the conference, I embarked on a journey to read as much of the critiques that were written about the conference and the presenters.  It was my responsibility to know about fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  What if, like the apostle James wrote, I cursed those who are made in the image of God not just by words but by words in my mind??  This would be unacceptable in my walk with Christ.

For that one month, I kept praying and asking God to guard my heart.  I attended the conference, still pro-Israel, with fear and trembling in my heart.  But I also knew that God has allowed me to attend CATC2016 to experience His heart.

At the Conference

I was the only Singaporean here.  Most people came in groups or were couples.  It was really odd for me.  But I was glad that during my first dinner, an American pastor asked me to join the table with 3 other Norwegian brothers.  Still keeping an open mind, I walked away, perhaps, a little offended that it was pro-Palestinian talk.  Hit the email button to mobilise prayer for all at the conference and especially for my heart to remain guarded.
Worshipping Jehovah!

The next 3 days were simply glorious!  And here's why:
1.  We were Christ-centered in worship.  Oh, to see Palestinian Christians worshipping God and leading a multinational, multicultural and multilingual worship unto the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was just amazing.  There were people with different opinions about the Israeli-Palestine conflict but we worshipped in unity.  Isn't this what God desires? - Jesus prayed for unity (John 17: 21)

2.  Our devotional deliverer, Rev. Dr. Mark Labberton declared that "This conference has a deep sense of humble-seeking after God".  I could not agree more - this is what happened with worship and devotions.  We were exhorted to yield to the wisdom and truth found in the Scriptures - to practice the law of love, to accept all in the image of God, keep going to the people who are seen as enemies, engage with those who hurt.  This is counter-cultural!
God's kingdom principles are counter-cultural!  As our devotional deliverer reminded us, "The Gospel is not cosy and secure - it makes you do things that are different!"

Oh yes, the Gospel does make you do things that are different.  It begins with looking at one's own heart, thoughts and attitudes.  My heart was definitely changed.  Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac said, "Let's not be pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, let's be pro-people".

3.  It was not just about extremism in the Holy Land but we also heard about extremism from African and North American perspectives.  We were enlightened about Boko Haram's history and ideologies by Prof. John Azumah.

4.  Each day, we had a 'conference poet', Lucy Berry who encapsulated the themes of the day's messages in an unique way.  You have to listen well to understand the profundity of a simple poem.

5.  I was so impressed with the brilliance and clarity of young Jack Munayer who spoke on the delegimatization of Palestinian Christians and the creativity of the young adults of a ministry of reconciliation, Musalaha.

I could go on about every presenter but I want you to see through my eyes and hear through my ears, and imagine it for yourself:
a. I saw a Palestinian sheikh greeting a rabbi.  Read Rav Hanan Schlesinger's journey to listen to the 'other' by clicking on this link.
b. I saw the love for people in the hearts of friends at the conference - Jew and Gentile.
c. I saw all peoples come together to honor the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
d. I saw cultural sensitivity as non-Christian Palestinians were invited to open the conference.
e. I saw the condemnation of Israel by non-Christians.
f. I saw the love for all people by Palestinian Christians.
g. I saw that Palestinian Christians bear the brunt of the stick even though they are not involved in stabbings and killings of Jewish people.
h. I heard the struggles that Palestinian Christians face daily.  The word "humiliation" was heard too often as they crossed checkpoints; as they stare at the walls that separate them from others and at times, loved ones); as they are treated differently from those in Israel.
i. I saw that many things spoken against the conference were in reality, the work of journalists, tweeters and reporters with a lack of integrity.  Some may not even have been at the conference. These promoters of falsehood have an agenda contrary to CATC which simply wishes to address injustices, promote peace and reconciliation among Israelis and Palestinians.  So many times, we were reminded that we (the outside-of-Holy Land- evangelicals) needed to exercise God's love towards both peoples.
j. I saw the many Christians and the handful of Muslims and Jews be polite and civil.  Respect for the "other" replaced humiliation at the conference venue - a much-needed sanctuary for healing.  We did not fight - we talked, we tried to understand various perspectives, we agreed to disagree.

6.  How about the Jewish Perspective on Religious Extremism & a Gospel Response at CATC2016?
Fr. David Neuhaus, just one of the Jewish presenters,  expounded that "the gospel response must be humble" towards extremism.  He exhorted the listeners to "root out own extremism" and repent, "to speak words that are profoundly prophetic" which is Good News, and "proclaim Him who is our Peace".
Extremism is violent - even Palestinian Christians and all of us agree to this fact.  Christians are not exempted from extremist thoughts and actions -think of the Crusades.  Jewish extremism is seen when mosques are burnt by radical Jews, fanatical nationalists who ignore the rights of others, settlers who are armed and go on a rampage against Palestinians.

I encourage you to listen to Fr. Neuhaus's full message.

Post Conference Personal Take-Aways
All human lives are valuable to God.  We are all made in the image of God.  Our sin separates us from God and from each other.  Our narratives are influenced by the different socio-cultural and theological lens we wear.  We need to give space to listen to each other's narratives.  We desperately need to know that God who loves everyone does not condone sin - extremism within our own heart as we reject the Gospel is sin.  So, we need to repent and ask for forgiveness.  In short, love the sinner and not the sin.  In a shorter manner, take time to listen; have a tea-break and chat.  Be a peacemaker and not a divider.

Did I agree with everything that everyone said, suggested or showed?  No, I did not.  I have my views but I have decided to learn abit more.  I owe it to myself to be responsible about this.  And so I picked up a book written by Dr. Salim Munayer and Lisa Loden, "Through My Enemy's Eyes" - probably an example of two authors from Palestinian and Jewish backgrounds who meet at the crossroads to help others negotiate the different thoughts.  I met both authors briefly and learnt through different sources that they are good friends who respect each other's views.

I did hope that there would be more Africans, Asians and Latin Americans.  Perhaps they would participate the next time.  May God bring the right people alongside regardless of nationalities or ethnicities or languages to be promoters of peace in conflict zones; to be light in the darkness; to bring hope among those seeking hope.

Greatest Disappointment
I was shocked at the viciousness of the media.  What happened to journalistic integrity?  I even wondered if the writer had attended this conference.  If he did, he would have seen the love, respect, peace and joy in our beings.  He would have witnessed the hopefulness of unity among Christians, Jews and Muslims.  Why not? Their forefathers lived together after all.

What utter nonsense to say that evangelicals rejected Israel!!  We did not reject Israel, not once.  Palestinian Christians or anyone of us from various nations never did reject Israel and we condemn terrorism, injustices and religious extremism regardless of which group might advocate these concepts and related actions.

My great disappointment was with the media that uses lies to fuel extensive readership.

When We Die. . .
Seriously folks, when we die, we are not taking any land with us - I am not taking a piece of Singapore with me.  In fact, all of us live on temporary land.  Our real home will be in heaven or hell.  So while we are on earth, how about caring enough not to fight about it?  Rather, let's expend our energy into building relationships and communities creatively and peacefully.

I believe that our Lord Jesus was more interested in unity among those in His kingdom.  I believe that we are called to love all people.  I believe that we need courage to call sin by its names and labels, and not condone it.  I also believe that we are called to stand for injustices which often do not align itself to the Scriptures.  I believe that all of us who are made in God's image have the grand opportunity to receive forgiveness and eternal life through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ which was shed on the cross.  I believe that I am redeemed by this Savior who laid down His life for me, and the world.  I believe that we are created for God's glory to shine in and through us.

So, why then do we allow the sins of greed and power to overtake our hearts when we have the choice to live in peace, safety and unity?

One Final Question
The following photo of the Mediterranean Sea was taken last week.  Two different parts of the same sea, side by side.  One looks peaceful, clear and inviting.  The other has a barrier artificially built around it (so you can be safe in the waters).  Which do you like most?  The open sea or the one with barriers?  Both do not guarantee complete safety, so I would say, "learn to swim" in the open sea where there are no barriers.  Trust Jesus to be your Lifeguard in the open waters of life with your neighbors.

With blessings of Peace (in every language) in Jesus Name,

ps/- I came across another great article by a rabbi.  Click this link to read.